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January 19, 2005

Encore Haydn

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Terry Teachout has written a lovely appreciation of the music of Joseph Haydn for Commentary magazine. As it happens, I'm going through my second audiobook biography of Haydn, this one by the Teaching Company's Robert Greenberg. For the moment -- and despite being burdened with lousy classical-music ears -- I feel like I've got a small purchase on this whole Haydn thing.

Terry's essay zeroes in on one of the key things about Haydn: what a wonderful person Haydn was, and how his nature can be felt in his music. By all accounts, Haydn was that rare creature: an artistic genius of the highest order who was also one of life's Really Good Guys.

Let us count some of Haydn's virtues:

  • Hard working. Oh, man, was Haydn ever hard-working. He started out with next-to-nothing, and he wasn't anything like the youthful prodigy many musicians are; he seems not to have come fully into his artistic own until his 40s. It was persistence, discipline, faith, and luck that saw him through, as well as hard, hard work: according to Greenberg, Haydn didn't take his first vacation until he was 58 years old. Yet he became the most-celebrated musical figure in Europe. The English, who were mad for his music, often compared him to Shakespeare. Terry writes that there's reason to think that Haydn may have been the most popular classical-music composer who ever lived.

  • Intelligent, modest, and confident -- yet grateful. Haydn never doubted his talent. Crises of confidence played no role in his life; he always had a sense of what he might be capable of. But he never claimed credit for his talent either. As far as he was concerned, his talent was a gift from God; it was Joseph Haydn's duty and mission to shepherd and deliver this talent as best he could. For Haydn, composing and creating were ways not to show off but to praise God.

  • Cheerful and positive, yet solid and deep too. Haydn was a normal guy not in the sense of being emotionally limited but in the sense of having a full and complete emotional life. His feelings ran deep, but they were appropriate to actual circumstances. Death made him feel sorrow, good fortune made him feel joy. He was anything but a neurotic, or a mood-swinging manic-depressive, and he never went in for that post-Romantic ploy of trying to be fascinating by out-feeling everyone else. Grandstanding and narcissism were simply not his bag.

  • Generous. Haydn was quick to give credit to others; he was the first to acknowledge others' talents and contributions; and he never neglected to recommend worthy others for jobs.

How often do we run across topflight artists who are also healthy, outgoing-yet-sensitive, straightforward human beings? His patrons loved him; the musicians he led and cared for loved him; his audiences loved him; his friends loved him. It makes sense that the style he set the template for (this is his big music-history achievement) was the Classical style -- balance, wit, good cheer, big emotions, accessibility ... Haydn also made one of the music history's least-rewarding marriages, poor guy. But that's a novel in its own right.

Terry makes the case that Haydn's solidness as a person is the main reason Haydn isn't as much appreciated these days as he deserves to be. We post-Romantics have developed a taste for distortion, weirdness, and extremes -- or, on the other hand, for coldness, irony, and intellectuality. We've come to associate art with freakishness. Haydn was the least freakish of artists. We've even come to expect artists to be extraordinary as people. But what was extraordinary about Haydn was how fully, diligently and imaginatively he worked to give expression to a normal range of experience. One of the wonderful things about listening to Haydn's music is being reminded how endlessly rich ordinary experience is.

Here's a sample Terry passage:

That Haydn was not nearly so psychologically complex a figure as, say, Mozart or Beethoven does not by itself explain why 19th-century listeners failed to warm to his music, but it does run parallel to the main reason, which is that he eschewed the emotional extremes that appealed so strongly to the romantics. Landon speaks of “Haydn’s message of optimism, faith, and cheer,” which is perhaps another way of saying that he was a Kapellmeister by temperament, a workaday craftsman rather than a febrile enthusiast. The romantics turned their noses up at such folk—even when they happened to rank among the supreme geniuses of Western art.

FWIW, Haydn was such a majorly swell guy that I can find it hard not to get a little sniffly when I think about him. Here was an honorable, generous, decent man ... who was loved by nearly everyone who knew him ... a guy who wrote some of the most transporting music ever ... whose ego never ran out of control ... and who lived to enjoy the acclaim. Phew: a well-earned happy ending, for once. Learning about Haydn hits me the same way that reading some of Dickens' novels hit me when I was young.

Incidentally, what a terrific art experience it is to be led through Haydn's life and music by someone like Greenberg. And what a great form the audio-presentation-of-a-musician's-life-and-work is. I mean, really: if you're an amateur eager to explore the work of a musician, how can you beat an audio-based, biography-and-commentary-enhanced-with-music-samples package? It's such a beautiful and apt form that I listen to these packages feeling sorry for all those writers who have created mere books about music. (Hats off to them, of course.) Books -- pshaw. For the purpose of exploring music, mixed-media rules.

Which of the two audiobook intros-to-Haydn that I've been through would I recommend more enthusiastically? Well, since both are first-class (as well as inexpensive, at least when on sale), why not enjoy them both? The comparing-and-contrasting such an adventure permits is fun. Jeremy Siepmann's Haydn seems a bit like Siepmann himself: gentlemanly, helpful, lowkey. (I blogged about the Siepmann package here.) The Haydn of Robert Greenberg, while identical as far as the facts go, is a bouncier, showier, more aggressive creature -- a bit like Greenberg himself. Now there's a nice lesson in how a presenter/biographer can affect your perception of his subject matter.

In any case, you won't go wrong with either package. In a pinch, I'd start with Siepmann, who supplies more extensive musical examples. However enjoyably zingy and boisterous Greenberg is, he's also just a wee bit in love with the sound of his own voice.

And don't miss treating yourself to Terry Teachout's essay.



posted by Michael at January 19, 2005


You're right, what a great guy Haydn was. And both you and Mr. Teachout have risen to your subject matter, congratulations.

Being a musical ignoramus, I can only say that when I hear Haydn on my local classical music station, I always perk up with the greatest pleasure.

A minor, musical ignoramus type question, but maybe one you could answer: Who made the decision to combine the music of the latter 18th century (i.e., what appears to be referred to as sort of 'classical' proper) with the 'Romantic' music of the 19th century, all under the rubric of "Classical" music? I mean, it actually strikes me as weird that people would consider classic-proper music as the same thing as 'romantic' music. They seem as distinct to me as jazz from ragtime, or blues and rock. I so infinitely prefer classic proper to Romantic music (except for a few isolated figures) that the smuggling of Romantic music under the Classical label seems like false advertising, somehow.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 19, 2005 02:32 PM

Interesting, and coincides slightly with my dilemma today at TT: trying to apply labels to to musical artists. Like nailing jello to a tree - a very slippery feat.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on January 19, 2005 03:53 PM

Haydn tends to be underrated musically because of the lack of excess, just as you said. But he actually did go through a Sturm and Drang period (his middle period) -- his Passion symphony (Passion of Christ), Trauer symphony, and a couple others aren't what you'd expect.

While he was considerably older than Mozart, he was quite a late bloomer and they were musical contemporaries who passed ideas back and forth. Haydn is supposed to have been one of only two living musicians that Haydn never insulted (the other being J.C.Bach). When a false rumor came around that Mozart had also insulted Haydn, Haydn said something like "Oh, well, that's Mozart for you." He also outlived Mozart by decades.

I've heard people say that the real German Romantics were Haydn and Mozart (contemporaries of Goethe and Schiller). Those labels are pretty nominal.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 19, 2005 06:44 PM

You need to join the Davidsbund:

Posted by: winifer skattebol on January 19, 2005 07:51 PM

"But he actually did go through a Sturm and Drang period (his middle period)"

The "7 Last Words of Christ", one of Haydn's most exquisite pieces, exists in both instrumental and sung versions.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on January 19, 2005 07:57 PM

The famous Haydn tune "Austria" (familiar to Episcopalians as the hymn "Glorious things of Thee are spoken") is actually the slow movement of the Emperor Quartet. At one point, it was also anthem of Columbia University. Read this fascinating history by Ruth Reichmann:

"When composer Franz Joseph Haydn, the father of the "Wiener Klassik," returned to Austria from his second concert tour to England, he set out to write an Imperial Anthem (Kaiser Hymn) for Franz II, the last Kaiser of "das Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nation / Holy Roman Empire." Haydn had been impressed by the solemn beauty of "God save the King." "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" was first played on February 12, 1797. (Carl Czerny version). With several text variations it served as the Austrian anthem until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 (end of World War I) and again from 1929-1938 (Austria reunited with Germany).

The "Deutschlandlied," combined Haydn's melody with lyrics by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1841). Fallersleben (1798-1874) wrote many other well-known songs. At that time, some 30 small German states had been loosely united in the "Deutscher Bund" (German Federation) since 1815.

The first President of the "Weimar Republic" (=Germany), Friedrich Ebert, officially introduced the "Deutschlandlied" as the National Anthem in 1922. It had been an unofficial national anthem in the second half of the 19th century.

Banned after WW II, in May, 1952, the third stanza of the "Deutschlandlied" was proclaimed the anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany by President Theodor Heuss. Austria, on the other hand, in 1946 had elected a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart melody of 1791 combined with Paula Preradovic's text of 1947 for its new national anthem (text with melody)."

Posted by: winifer skattebol on January 20, 2005 02:06 AM

I am a major Haydn fan -- I have about 60-70 CDs of his music and have played several of his pieces -- and came to him in my 30s, when his relative emotional balance and high level of craftsmanship became more appealing. I'm happy to see him get this attention.

Friedrich: "Who made the decision to combine the music of the latter 18th century (i.e., what appears to be referred to as sort of 'classical' proper) with the 'Romantic' music of the 19th century, all under the rubric of "Classical" music?"

I've never seen this conflation. It's true that German music of the 1830s and 1840s (usually described as the height of Romanticism in music) flowed out of predecessors such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but they are typically seen as very distinct periods.

One interesting thing about Haydn is that, when you get to know his music, you see how Beethoven's style flowed from his. Beethoven is officially counted as a student of Haydn's (Beethoven did some contrapuntal study under the older man) but the link seems very strong stylistically, beyond what can be accounted for by the known biographical details. I'll give one example: the first solo vocal entry in the Haydn late oratorio The Seasons is strikingly similar to the first solo vocal entry --the really famous one -- from the last movement of Beethoven's 9th. And there are many more similarities like this.

I'll stop now but if anyone wants to continue this discussion, I'll be happy to talk about Haydn until I'm blue in the face.

Posted by: JT on January 20, 2005 09:29 AM


Maybe I was unclear, but when I dial in to a "Classical" music station, I will hear both "Classical-proper" music of the 18th century and "Romantic" music of the 19th century, referred to under the common label of "Classical" music. I'll also hear music from the later 19th and early 20th centuries (which I would describe in my general ignorance as "Late Romantic" music) on the same station, again described as "Classical" music. The same is true when I patronize symphony orchestras. To wit, they happily program mixes of Baroque, Classical-proper, Romantic and Late Romantic (?) music as if it were all variants of "one thing," (i.e., "Classical Music") while not programming other types of music that are, in my opinion, no more different from "Classical Music" than the different branches of said "Classical Music" are different from each other. This strikes me as a bit strange, but what do I know?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 20, 2005 10:25 AM

Oh, I see what you were saying. Yes, the word "classical" as used here has two different, complex meanings that are being used in distinct but overlapping ways. Taxonomic problems!

Just one of classical music's myriad problems is its very name. Suggested alternatives like "concert music" and "art music" have obvious problems.

Posted by: JT on January 20, 2005 10:31 AM


I'm not so sure the problem's just taxonomic. Clearly it has a strong moralistic or (ahem) snob component to these terms--on the one hand we have "serious" music, which we shall dignify as "Classical" (even though it has no connection whatever to Antiquity), and on the other we have "popular" music, which we shall disregard. Although I'm rarely a fan of theories of social construction, this seems like a pretty good example of one. In the 19th century, as far as I can tell, there was no such yawning gulf between "classical" and "popular" music; one was constructed as the lower orders got out of hand, so to speak.

Which has nothing to do with Haydn, I hasten to add...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 20, 2005 10:40 AM

FvB: I agree with you. There's also a normative elevation of Mozart and Beethoven above art musicians before and after them.

Posted by: JT on January 20, 2005 12:02 PM

JT -- That's a great way of putting it, that Haydn's clarity, balance and craftsmanship may not hit you until you've found a little of your own balance in life (and have learned how to appreciate it too).

The classical/classical thing is a puzzle. What do you guys think of "Western art music" instead? It's a little goody-goody/PC for my tastes, but it also seems to make a fair amount of sense.

It reminds me a bit too of another taxonomic confusion: "hatha yoga." Alan Little will correct me on this if I good, I hope. But I'm under the impression that the term is used in two ways. There's a big-H Hatha Yoga: yoga in the sense of the postures. (Yoga, btw, isn't just the physical exercise. It's a kind of meta-system: self-help, philosophy, exercise, breathing, and probably much else. So if go to a yoga-exercise class and you say you're "doing yoga" you're being a little imprecise. You're actually doing Hatha yoga.) And then there's little-h hatha yoga, which is a particular style of yoga-exercise. There are a lot of different yoga-exercise (ie. Hatha Yoga) approaches: Iyengar, vinyasa, etc. And one of them, confusingly, is called "hatha yoga." So you can be doing the hatha yoga style of Hatha Yoga.

Confusing, at least for dimwits like me. I wonder if the hatha confusion has any roots in snobbery. Or in anything at all.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 20, 2005 01:44 PM

Another delightful guy - Peter Ustinov - hosted a documentary about Haydn that's worth watching. Don't know where you could buy it though.

And recordings! Bernstein's London and Paris symphonies and The Creation, all with the NYPhil; Beecham's London Symphonies; Celibidache's unique (and uniquely slow) take on 103 & 104; Kodaly's cycle of the complete quartets (pick Opus 76 if you can only get one batch) which is insanely cheap (Tatrai's quartets are good too but pricey); Adam Fischer's complete symphony cycle which is also cheap. I've been eyeing Gardiner's box set of masses but I haven't heard it yet.

Re: the whole "classical" thing, I too dislike the term, but mainly because people assume it's "relaxing", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. Like I have any need for sonic Nyquil. Karl Haas calls it "good music", and you'll notice the presupposition. "Orchestral" is the closest we get to accurate, but then what about keyboards and choruses? I could never ever be interested in something which called itself "art music". So classical it must remain.

And I don't think the highbrow/popular line is as recent as Friedrich claims - you wouldn't have heard Tylman Susato getting the kind of praise that Palestrina did, for instance. (Palestrina kind of reminds me of Haydn in a lot of ways.)

BTW, this post links to another thread - Haydn did the tune for Ernie Kovacs' commercials for Dutch Masters Cigars.

Posted by: Brian on January 20, 2005 06:53 PM

Michael, if one if doing Bikram or Iyengar yoga, one is doing a system of copyrighted poses; that's the main difference between traditional "Hatha Yoga" and some of the more modern variants. They're all just different Hatha Yoga schools from my perspective.

BTW my wife and I are both in a Hatha Yoga class this semester: shoulder stands on the second day! (well, ok, for her, I kinda got into one a bit... :-)

And taking it at the local community college is great: it's $42 for a semester long class that meets twice a week for an hour, and it's also one credit of Pass/Fail college credit (for those of us still on our way to our first degree!)

And it's actually CHEAPER than the non-credit 'community campus' yoga classes the exact same community college. You have to pay an extra fee, which covers the use of the (drumroll!) instructor's studio space, rather than using the paid for by your very own taxes community college gym.

But I suppose they DO offer more class times, and either one is, what, the price of one or two class sessions in the Big City? How the heck much are yoga classes at a commercial yoga studio in NYC?
(actual serious question!)

Oh right, this was a thread on classical music, wait, or was that Classical Music...and is that the performance style (orchestral), or the period (immediate pre-Romantic)?

And why is it always more fun to comment here than to post to either my (idle as hell) own blog, or my nearly as dormant livejournal?

Or even most other blog comments?

Take that last as the compliment it was!

Posted by: David Mercer on January 23, 2005 06:55 AM

Nice Haydn piece. Jens Laurson wrote his own reaction to Terry's article ( at Ionarts. It has some additions for recording recommendations, if you're interested.

Posted by: CTD on January 26, 2005 01:45 PM

The difference between CLASSICAL (and BAROQUE) on the one hand and ROMANTIC on the other is largely one of manners, that is to say, the stuff one can speak about AS WELL as the way one may speak. Bethoven and company made it OK in music played in the polite company to express and manipulate emotions Haydn and Mozart and their predecessors would have never dreamt to mention. In this sense we still live in the shadow of the 19th century: anguish, anxiety, fear, mental illness, child abuse, betrayal, divorce, abandonement, sickness, poverty, injustice, disfunction, rebellion are still thought to be the worthy -- indeed the PREFERABLE -- subjects for high brow art. Nothing of that in Haydn: suffering, yes, maybe, though rarely, none at all if possible, and if at all, then full of pathos and nobility, for worthy causes, out of love and self sacrifice, for love, loyalty, chivalry. And brief. But mostly just good natured, calm, healthy, relaxed stuff, like a pleasant conversation at tea time. And what is wrong with that, right?

Posted by: tom potocki on January 29, 2005 07:12 AM

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